LONDON // South Africa will display bowling firepower reminiscent of the West Indies side of the 1980s at Lord's this week when they start their campaign to win a series in England for the first time in the post-apartheid era. There is a steely confidence in the Proteas ranks before the teams meet today in the first of four Tests.
Graeme Smith, still only 27, is the most experienced captain in world cricket and he believes he is at last fielding a side comprising the best cricketers in multi-racial South Africa. The batting combines the flair of AB de Villiers with the solidity of Hashim Amla batting around the supreme accumulator Jacques Kallis and backed up by wicketkeeper Mark Boucher. But it is the pace attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini that excites South Africa and their supporters.
Their coach Mickey Arthur was asked on Tuesday to compare his attack to the raw pace of unremitting hostility and remorseless accuracy bowled by the masters of their craft that propelled West Indies to an era of unparalleled success in the 1980s. He sounded an obligatory note of caution when he said: "They have got a long way to go to be there but these guys are hugely exciting. It really is going to be a treat to watch them bowl this summer.
"I said at the start of our summer in South Africa that in two years' time we would have number one and two in the world in Steyn and Morkel in the bowling rankings. "I still believe in two years time we will have number one and two in the world that's how excited I am about these two." Each of the three strike bowlers reach speeds in excess of 145km an hour, the difference between fast and seriously quick.
Steyn, the speediest of the trio, has had a phenomenal start to his Test career, capturing 120 wickets from 23 Tests at an average of 21.60 with a strike-rate of 35.8, the best by some distance for South Africans who have taken 100 wickets or more. Morkel is tall, only marginally slower and extracts threatening bounce. Ntini, the veteran of the attack with 344 Test wickets, angles the ball awkwardly into the right-handers.
England are likely to field the same XI for the sixth Test in a row, although their batting has been inconsistent and middle-order batsmen Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood face the axe if they fail to deliver. The bowlers have the shadow of Andrew Flintoff hovering in the background with the Lancashire all-rounder certain to be recalled once the selectors are satisfied he can last five days. The England opener Andrew Strauss, who will be playing his 50th Test, told a news conference the fast bowling would be a challenge.
"More pace on the ball provides opportunities as well, if they bowl well it's going to be hard work, if they bowl slightly off line there may well be more opportunities to score," he said. "Both teams are using the series as a launch pad to be the number one side in the world and that's going to make it very competitive." * Reuters